Airport Security Inspections : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I'm about to take a trip with my camera. Obviously the camera, lenses, meter etc. will be my one carry on. Does anyone have recent experience with requesting hand inspection of sheet film holders? I sometimes had problems with this before and was wondering how people are doing with this now. I guess I could stick them in lead in the checked luggage. Thanks.

-- Kevin Crisp (, October 16, 2001


I've just returned to Detroit after shooting an architectural photography job in New York, and was very glad that I had decided in advance not to try to carry film with me any longer. I suspected that it would be a problem, and while standing in the interminable lines for the hand baggage check in Detroit, I queried a Northwest Airlines employee about the information that new, more powerful X-ray machines were being installed for checked baggage. He confirmed that this is being contemplated, and that even now random checked baggage was being very carefully X-rayed on domestic flights. At the actual security point, the technician I spoke with asserted that "EVERYTHING" had to go through X-ray. So after arriving in New York, I went down to Adorama, stocked up on film, and did my work. Ordinarily the last thing I do on one of these jobs is to carefully pack away all the film, both exposed and unexposed, in a small box in the center of my checked baggage, but this time I just packed it all up in a Fedex box so that it would follow me home. I wonder how long it will be before some malefactor does something awful enough that Fedex starts X-raying all of its parcels?

-- Christopher Campbell (, October 16, 2001.

Thank you Christopher for sharing your experiences with the forum. In my opinion, your post is probably the most important piece of information for all traveling photographers to understand. The era of carrying film with us in any form on airplanes is clearly over. My concern is getting film shipped to meet us on time at less than populated areas of the country where we need or want to shoot. Once again, I feel that Fed Ex and their tracking system will come to the rescue to and from location, wherever they may be. We just need to plan accordingly.

Welcome to the bold New World.

-- Michael Kadillak (, October 16, 2001.

Is the problem with checked bags that they all get really powerful x- rays? Putting the exposed film in the lead bag won't do it?

-- Kevin Crisp (, October 16, 2001.

I would not feel completely safe unless the package was shipped by ground transportation. FedEx is less likely to x-ray shipments from an established account, but a hand written air bill is less certain.

UPS has a pretty good tracking system, but they are not quite as reliable as FedEx in terms of shipment times. You can ship to any hotel by indicating your name, c/o the destination hotel. Just be sure to indicate on the shipping label right under your name that the package is for a guest and is to be held for arrival on a specific check-in date.

-- Michael Feldman (, October 16, 2001.

Kevin, the problem with checked baggage is that the security operator will supposedly turn up the x-ray intensity until it can see through the lead shield.

-- Michael Feldman (, October 16, 2001.

I flew on 4 US domestic flights the week following the attacks in NYC and the Pentagon. Only had time for one day of photography on the trip so I had only 6 film holders with my Wooden field (Tachihara) a lens and some 35mm gear. All squeezed into a carryon bag. I let the film be xrayed (not the high powered checked bag machine) the first time, but there was understandable interest in the contents of the bag so I needed to have a hand search anyway. After that I just told the security folk that they would want to do a hand search after they see the xray anyway, so they agreed to skip straight to a handsearch without xray.

I arrived with plenty of time and was cheerful about explaining what everything was of course. People behind me were patient (and curious). So that's one experience.

Don't use lead bags for checked luggage. If they are doing their job, they'll up the xray level to see inside the bags (wouldn't you want them to do that if their job is to identify forbidden items?).

"Your mileage may vary"....

-- Eric Pederson (, October 16, 2001.

Having thought it over, I'll try putting the film holders in the lead bag in the carry on. If they want a hand search, they can hand search after it goes through the machine. I'll let you know what happens. If worse comes to worse (I'm going to a major city) I'll go buy some film. Thanks for your comments.

-- Kevin Crisp (, October 16, 2001.

According to Kodak, the problem isn't that an operator can dial up the intensity of the X-fay, it is that new machines such as the InVision CTX-5000SP are coming on line which use beam intensities 100-300x stronger than the 1 mR X-ray machines of the past. This is apparently sufficient to completely burn out film, and damage even those packaged in the lead-lined bags! One can certainly hope to encounter security people who are understanding and considerate, but I for one am not counting on it in the future. It's annoying to have to FedEx film to and from location shoots, but not nearly as dire a prospect as explaining to a client that all the film was lost due to X-ray damage. For a brief blurb, see the Kodak site: ay4.shtml

-- Christopher Campbell (, October 16, 2001.

Are you guys shooting 1600ASA stock or something? I've been travelling around the world for years with 100ASA film, often to the kind of backwoods countries with the really old fashioned X-Ray machines that we're all taught to fear and I've never yet had any detectable evidence of fogging. I've just got back from Beirut airport where security is currently hypersensitive and everything went through three machines with no problem. Is there anyone who can put their hand on their heart and say that they've genuinely had problems with X-Ray fogging of normal speed films? I never bother asking for hand inspection because frankly I've never felt the need. Given the current state of hysteria I'd say it's just asking of unnecessary grief. To reiterate previous posts, lead lined bags are a con - the op just turns up the power until they can see in. Otherwise every terrorist organisation in the world would be using them.

-- Stuart Whatling (, October 16, 2001.

The InVision CTX-5000 SP scanners are only used for checked baggage and not for carry-ons. Film in carry-ons should be fine with the lower powered x-ray machines. See http://www.martweis

-- Bong Munoz (, October 16, 2001.

Simple: don't load your holders before you leave, and unload them before you return. Let the empty holders fly in your checked luggage and carry on your film in the boxes. Unless you are going through multiple security scans you should be okay. As others have ppiinted out, checked bags are not x-rayed, they use gamma ray technology (as described above. lead doesn't stop gamma rays.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, October 16, 2001.

Recently read an experience related by email to me where someone's film boxes had to be inspected and opened. After a "scuffle", every fourth box was opened in a closet with the lights out. Sounds a little implausible, but I have no reason to believe that this wasn't a true account.

I like the idea of shipping film boxes and/or film holders by fed-ex, ups, etc.

-- neil poulsen (, October 17, 2001.

As an update I made the trip, with unprotected TMAX 100 in filmholders in a shoulder bag that went through the usual carry-on machine. Both ends they wanted to go all through the camera bag but paid essentially no attention to the filmholders. On the way out of LAX they took away a paper clip as a possible weapon. Seriously, I keep it in the bag to stick through the Packard Shutter instantaneous hole when I'm using one of those. I forgot it was in the bag. The film looks fine as it always does when it goes through the carry-on screener. Some people (at random) have "secondary search" right in the terminal with more powerful x-ray equipment and the sign said to take all film out first. The newest lead bags claim they will protect film from the intense beam mentioned in some of your posts. Problem is, since you don't know if your bag got zapped you wouldn't know if you were protected or lucky until it was too late. Thanks for the advice, folks. Leave those paper clips at home.

-- Kevin Crisp (, October 22, 2001.

Has any one used Fed-x to get professional roll and sheet film to locations out side of the US? I have been trying to use Fuji's web site to find film dealers in locations out side the US, but it refers you to each contries rep. I have contacted the rep. and have met with spotty success on finding a local "stocking supplier". Pricing in some locations has been a bit of a shock, mybe shooting 35mm or digital is an option.

-- pat grey (, March 25, 2002.

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